Thursday, 20 December 2018

London Gatwick Airport staying closed until 1900 - Army to be called in.

Tens of thousands of passengers have continued to be disrupted by drones flying over London Gatwick Airport, the UK's second busiest airport and the worlds busiest single-runway airport. Over 200 arrival and 200 departure flights due to operate today have been cancelled. 

The airport has had to repeatedly had to close its runway as two drones have been spotted over the runway or other parts of the airfield. The local police have said it is not believed to be a terror-related incident, but it is clear to be a "deliberate act" of disruption, using "industrial specification" drones. There are now twenty police teams, over sixty personnel,  in action in the hunt for the drones pilots, including a police helicopter and a heavily armed unit.

The BBC reported that at 1530 the army had been called in to help with the tracking and apprehension of those responsible for operating the drones. A Ministry of Defence spokesperson told us they are in discussions with Sussex Police regarding the military capabilities requires after the Sussex Police asked for help.  It is understood that such capabilities could include the deployment of a 'reaper' like drone to the area.  

Sources have said that the airport will remain closed until at least 1900 today and the disruption may last for days.  Many children have seen dreams of a meeting Santa in Lapland on a number of day trips, disappear as the flights have been cancelled. 

Then airport first closed its runway around 2113 on Wednesday night, it opened again at just after 0300 the following morning. However, that resumption of flight operations was short lived as the drones were spotted again near the runway some 44 minutes later, causing flights to be halted. 

The laws regarding drone flying were recently changed and it is illegal to fly a drone within 1km of an airport or airfield boundary and flying above 120m - which increases the risk of a collision with a manned aircraft - is also banned. Drone pilots need to remain within visual sight of the drone they are flying and not with 50m of people. More details can be found at  Endangering the safety of an aircraft is also a criminal offence which can carry a 5-year prison sentence.

So many flights due to arrive at Gatwick overnight and this morning have had to divert to other airports, at least 5 went to Manchester, 7 to Luton, 11 to Stansted. other flights have had to go to Birmingham, Cardiff and even further afield, as far as Amsterdam and Paris. 

Many in the industry are now believing that this incident will lead to further calls for far more control of the rapidly expanding drone sector. Mandatory licensing has already been mentioned and was previously considered but not adopted as it was thought to be unnecessary and excessive.

Brian Strutton, General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA) told the BBC: "We have been working closely with the Department for Transport on these issues, and we were pleased to see new drone laws put in place earlier this year, but we said they do not go far enough. The Government was clear to BALPA that they were open to extending the 1km exclusion zone, and it is now obvious that must happen urgently. BALPA is calling for a 5km exclusion zone.

"This incident also reinforces the need for registration of drones and licensing of operators so that the police can track and trace drones which are being flown dangerously or irresponsibly and for the industry to invest in technology which can detect drones and stop them from being flown near airports and aircraft."

The UK's Civil Aviation Authority issued the following statement "The CAA is offering the following advice to passengers currently experiencing disruption at Gatwick Airport.  Under EU261 regulations, passengers that no longer wish to take their flight can contact their airline for a refund. For those passengers that do still wish to fly, we advise them to contact their airline to understand the options available.”

“Given the reasons for the current disruption at Gatwick Airport, the Civil Aviation Authority considers this event to be an extraordinary circumstance. In such circumstances, airlines are not obliged to pay financial compensation to passengers affected by the disruption."